FUN fact: as depicted in the movie Snatch, pigs can and will eat an entire human, bones and all. But they won’t touch onions or lemons.
This was just one of the many interesting things I learned while touring the Farmer Angus operations at Spier in Stellenbosch, guided by Farmer Angus himself. “Farmer Angus, one of two exclusively grass-fed, pasture-reared cattle farms found in the Western Cape. The 126 hectares of rolling green pastures is testament to Angus McIntosh’s dedication to grass and microbe farming. Here you won’t find cows squashed together in feedlots eating GMO grain, or crowds of broiler chickens stuffed into tiny metal cages. No, farms like Farmer Angus practise a technique called regenerative agriculture, which values the life of the animals and the land they graze on. This form of artisanal livestock farming offers a protein source that is high in nutrition and free of any hormones, antibiotics or chemicals.”
We all met at Vadas Smokehouse & Bakery for beverages and its famous – and rightly so – pasteis de nata, which are all creamy in the middle and crispy pastry on the outside which flakes in your mouth when you bite into it. Afterwards we were shown how they make the burger buns, and we got to prepare our own for lunch later. I hooked up with Jenny Morris aka Giggling Gourmet who decorated ours with red onion rings and sprigs of rosemary.
Then it was off to visit the chickens. Spier is home to thousands of chickens who frolic in the fields all day, and pop inside their egg-mobiles to lay their daily quota as the urge takes them. They are moved to a different field every day which has the important benefit of them not frolicking in their own poo (worlds away from chickens kept in cages and coops). Farmer Angus explained other practices, and how free-range does not necessarily mean what we think it does. And the legal wording means Farmer Angus eggs and other eggs are both labelled “free-range” despite not being laid under similar conditions. There’s comparable red tape when it comes to labelling beef as well. To make sure you get eggs from hens like Farmer Angus’s, you’re going to have to do a bit of homework. The carton does say “outdoor eggs” though, so look out for that.
Next, we visited the pigs, a relatively small number of them. At this point, as often happens, I went off to Google the collective noun for pigs and found this: “A wild or domestic pig in English is called swine. A male swine animal is called boar, and female swine is called a gilt or sow, and a herd of swine is called a sounder. Piglets group is often referred to as a litter. A sounder is the primary social team consisting of a boar, a couple of sows, and their piglets.” Anyway, not a whole lot, but happy they are.
Their habitat is also moved, every four or five days, houses and all; for their comfort and for that of the land. They get expired fruit and veggies from a supermarket chain (no lemons or onions), and on weekends, frozen yoghurt for a treat. Being a compact operation, there are no belly roasts or chops; the various parts are all cured – prosciutto, copa, chorizo and such.
Our third stop was the cattle. Did you know there is a breed called Limousin? I did not. They also have Red Angus. Gorgeous creatures. They graze on grass like they were designed to do, and are moved around four times a day. There is something called the “meat paradox” whereby most humans care about the cows and pigs and other animals, yet we still eat them. It’s a complex issue which you can research elsewhere, or read Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivores Dilemma. By all means go vegan or vegetarian but you won’t be doing the planet any favours. If continuing to consume animal products is your decision, then be informed and make the choices that benefit the animal as well as yourself.
“Farmer Angus meat is like no other and it has a lot to do with the way Angus raises his animals. They receive the best in terms of nutrition and lifestyle. By constantly moving them it not only prevents overgrazing but also over-fertilisation. Because the manure and urine from the animals is the only fertiliser Angus uses on his pastures, it’s essential it doesn’t become over-saturated.”
Then there is the issue of additives. “Conventional animal protein production depends on the widespread use of antibiotics. 90% of antibiotics issued by the pharmaceutical companies are consumed by animals in the confinement feeding animal operations (CAFO) where almost all the meat you eat is produced.”
Never mind doctors who over-prescribe antibiotics which are unnecessary coupled with people not taking them properly, which is creating antibiotic resistance to a number of bacterial infections, along with eating them in our food, is accelerating an inevitable health crisis. This is not a new problem; read more here.
Why do they give animals antibiotics? “There are two reasons for the (ab)use of antibiotics. The first is that in the 1950s it was discovered that continuous use of antibiotics promotes animal growth and the second is that because these animals live in their own excrement daily, they are under huge disease pressure. Routine antibiotics are used to prevent the outbreak of disease.”
As a regenerative livestock farmer, Angus says he knows that if animals roam freely in uncrowded outdoor spaces and eat only grass, there is little need to administer antibiotics. None of Farmer Angus’s meat contains gluten, MSG, GMO, nitrites, nitrates, antibiotics or hormones. You can be sure you are eating a product that is of the earth in its most natural and nutritious state. To find out more, Angus hosts farm tours monthly, for R40 per person, on Sundays at 9am. Upcoming dates are 20 March and 17 April. Click here to book and for more information.
Something else you can do for yourself at Spier is pick vegetables, again book online. After the animals we were given big bags to fill with carrots, peppers, cucumbers, butternuts, lettuces, kale (no, I didn’t), chard, and fistfuls of herbs all fresh from the soil. Technically the granadillas aren’t in the ground, but when they’re on the ground they’re good to go and will ripen nicely. It’s a wonderful way to know you’re eating what’s in season.
Our educational day concluded back at Vadas where we had juicy burgers, and sampled the Farm House organic Chenin Blanc which is, I think I mentioned on Instagram, ridiculously good.
Spier has a long history of ethical farming, and offers a host of activities for all ages. For more information, click here.